Mental Notes with Hilary Valdez: Christmas in Japan

Mental Notes with Hilary Valdez: Christmas in Japan

by Hilary Valdez
Stripes Japan

Only about 1 percent of the whole population in Japan is Christian. In 1552, the small city of Yamaguchi was host to Japan’s first Christmas celebrations initiated by a visiting Jesuit missionary. Each year, the city is gorgeously lit up with illuminations, decorated with Christmas trees making it one of the best places to attend Christmas services.

When I was a kid growing up in New York City, in an apartment, we didn’t have a fireplace to roast chestnuts. Instead, I roasted marshmallows on the gas stove. Christmas carolers did not come to the neighborhood singing Joy to the World, not a good idea. My mother used to take me to Rockefeller Center to watch the ice skaters.

One Christmas Eve when I was in the Marine Corps, I was a Brig Chaser on duty in a Red Line Brig. So, here I was, away from my family, quietly locked-up with a dozen of hard-to-handle, hard-core Marines. “Be Here Be Now” ran through my mind as I tried to reconcile my loneliness while feeling sorry for myself. One of the prisoners interrupted the silence as I silently stewed in my thoughts of self-pity. Then another prisoner started talking, then another, and another. The humanity in each prisoner began to reveal itself in the hours that followed, revealing the common emotional fundamentals that connect all humans.

The Christmas season brings out the universal human goodness in people, but we have to be open and receptive to the positive life forces surrounding us. Our thoughts control our feelings and our feelings control our behavior. Don’t despair if you are alone at Christmas. Hunt for the good stuff! Stay resilient! Volunteer to help yourself. Do something you enjoy, don’t stew in your tomatoes. Have fun with friends or be your own best friend and go out and be adventurous. Get on Skype with friends and family. Make some calls and stay connected.

In Japan, Christmas is a time to spread happiness, it isn’t a religious celebration. There are plenty of ways to take in some of this happiness— Illuminations are just one of Japan’s favorite ways to celebrate the season. 

Your base International Tours and Travel office has plenty of fun activities to fill your days off with. Try the Osaka Train and Travel tours, or check out the Snow Monkey and Onsen trips. 

Reach out! Don’t act like a turtle and pull back your emotions and behavior. Grab a friend and get out there— there’s plenty to do for free or at low cost. Don’t be lonely. Connect with your fellow humans. Stay positive and resilient. Go for it! Have a safe and blessed Christmas.


Hilary Valdez is a retiree living in Japan. He is an experienced Mental Health professional and Resiliency Trainer. Valdez is a former Marine and has worked with the military most of his career and most recently worked at Camp Zama as a Master Resiliency Trainer. Valdez now has a private practice and publishes books on social and psychological issues. His books are available on Amazon and for Kindle. Learn more about Valdez and contact him at or at

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